at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
While it might not have been intended for this moment, it is a poignant message that is very relevant to the dire situation the Bulls find themselves in.
On the doors of the lift leading up to the Blue Bulls Company offices at Loftus Versfeld is a message “Raise your game” next to a picture of injured Bulls captain Pierre Spies.
That would have been a sight every Bulls player would have had to face up to this week and it is the difficult truth that the Bulls apparently admitted to themselves on Monday.
But it is exactly what the Bulls will need to do this weekend in their first home game against the Lions.
They will need to raise their game if they have any chance of recovering from their indifferent start to the season.
As a result of their bad start – which has seen them sink to two successive defeats at the hands of the Sharks and Cheetahs – the Bulls yesterday announced a team with some significant changes.
Former captain Victor Matfield makes his first start since coming out of retirement this year, while Grant Hattingh moves from lock to No 8 at the expense of Jacques Engelbrecht who drops to the bench.
Frik Kirsten starts at tighthead prop in place of Werner Kruger, but the most significant change comes at flyhalf. Jacques-Louis Potgieter replaces Louis Fouche.
Potgieter last played for the Bulls in the 2010 before leaving for the Sharks and then to France.
However, the most significant change that the Bulls have made this week is mentally. Bulls coach Frans Ludeke proclaimed that their belief has been unshaken by the bad start.
Ludeke emphasised that his side firmly believed that they would turn the corner this weekend with both their performance and the result on the scoreboard.
“That is where belief comes in. It is easy to talk, that you trust each other, believe in the systems and work on stuff. We walk by faith and not by sight,” Ludeke said.
“We don’t need more motivation than that to make sure that we play well on Saturday,” added Ludeke.
Bulls captain Flip van der Merwe revealed that his team had confronted the elephant in the room and that the players had taken responsibility for the dismal start to the season which they hoped to rectify on Saturday. “We had to look each other in the eyes and took responsibility for what we did and owned up when we were wrong or right. We have the same process if we win or lose – we have a strict review on Monday and see where we can improve our game. We did see a lot of improvement and we got back onto the field and worked on it,” Van der Merwe said.
Another issue the Bulls have had to face up to this week has been the relationship between Van der Merwe and Matfield and to which one calls the shots on the field. Some confusion set in between the two in the latter stages of Friday’s defeat against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
Van der Merwe, though, cleared the air by admitting that his decision to go for touch was wrong and that the final decision taken by Matfield to go for posts was the right one. This earned the Bulls a bonus point in the end.
Matfield has not only captained the Bulls to three Super Rugby titles, but he is also the forwards and attack coach for the team. Van der Merwe says their relationship is healthy and one filled with mutual respect and support. “It (the relationship) works very well. Victor and I played a lot of games together. He has always been in the system and has helped us and he has massive experience while it was my first game as captain,” he added. - Pretoria News